Stranraer 1 Queen’s Park 3

There’s a tendency to describe every important football match as a “must win game,” and while that exaggeration can be tedious, there was no doubt that the Spiders’ encounter with Stranraer today came very close to being in that category.

We’re at the wrong end of the table and running out of games as we try to close the gap on Forfar and Albion Rovers. However, the position is still tight – and with Forfar to play in our penultimate game, we knew that victory today could put our fate back in our own hands.

And there were some grounds for optimism. Our opponents were missing a few players and had lost their last two matches, while Queen’s had come from behind to draw against Rovers last time out. There was also the bonus for Gus MacPherson of seeing his injury list starting to shorten, with Cammy Foy, Ewan MacPherson and Jamie Gullan all making good strides on the road to recovery. In addition to that news, Queen’s had the luxury of an in-form striker in the shape of Aiden Keena … and another dominant looking centre-half to partner Adam Cummins.

Those factors would have made for an intriguing team selection for the Gaffer, but things became even more interesting when that new centre half limped out of the warm-up and Lewis Magee was called from the bench to start.

The shout also went out for Foy to be found and he ended up stripped and on the bench – several weeks earlier than anybody anticipated. In the end, Magee’s promotion was the only change from Tuesday night’s starting XI.

Queen’s kicked the game off in glorious sunshine, but facing a biting wind. They made light of that handicap as they started brightly and David Galt produced the first chance of the afternoon when he latched onto a quick shy and found Keena with the cutback. The striker’s shot lacked power, but as a sign of intent, it was encouraging.

There was more encouragement after nine minutes when Scott Gibson – celebrating his 100th appearance in the Glorious Hoops – delivered a great free kick into the Stranraer box and Keena wasn’t far away from converting.

The home side tried to respond and Agnew was given too much space in the box, but didn’t punish us and then the same player failed to trouble White with a header.

In situations like Queen’s find themselves, the first goal is crucial … and this time it came our way. Sixteen minutes in, Gregor Fotheringham played a gem of a ball through the “inside right” channel (ask your dad if you don’t know what an inside right is). Keena sprang the offside trap, took the ball in his stride -and buried it behind the helpless Currie.

The goal sparked our hosts into action and with the help of a couple of doubtful decisions from referee Mike Roncone, they applied some pressure.
Neill headed wide, then a corner flew right across our box and thankfully found no takers.

Things were heating up … and almost boiled over after 25 minutes – thanks in no small part to the whistler. A tussle at the edge of the QP box produced heated claims for a home penalty. As Turner went to ground, he clearly grabbed the ball with one hand. Roncone decided there was no penalty, but incredibly allowed play to go on after the hand ball. Players from both sides flew into challenges, and it took a few minutes before things calmed down again.

Thankfully, when order was restored, the Spiders went back on the front foot. And on the half-hour, they doubled their advantage. Burns looked to be decked on the edge of the Stranraer box, but the penalty claims again fell on deaf ears. Keena did what all good strikers do and played to the whistle, scrapping for the loose ball and then firing a shot low past Currie.

What had been a decent game now got even better, with both teams going at it hammer and tongs. Stranraer won a corner which was cleared and led to a quick break for the Spiders. Centenarian Gibson led the charge before taking a bit of a nosebleed as he reached the home box. His cross was blocked, and Gibbie then had to race back to divert a shot from Okoh behind for another home corner.

Michael White hadn’t had too much to do at this stage, but with 38 minutes on the clock, the keeper got down superbly to turn a flick from Agnew behind for a corner. That was cleared and Queen’s went looking for a third goal. Keena and Burns combined well before Neill got in a despairing foot to divert the ball perilously close to his own goal as it flew behind for a corner.

The final action of the half saw Burns booked for taking down Turner as he tried to break clear.

The news that Forfar were losing to Ayr meant the half-time whistle produced a lot of smiles in the visiting ranks as the scoreline read:
Stranraer 0 Queen’s Park 2

The home side had to change something and did at the interval, bringing on former Spider Paul Woods in place of Okoh. It was the home side who produced the first meaningful action of the second period when White saved well from McGowan.

Queen’s immediately went up the park and Keena had a shot saved after being set up by Burns. The Spiders continued to look for the cushion of a third goal, with Dominic Docherty coming close on two occasions in quick succession. First he brought out a fine stop from Currie after Keena played him in and then he rattled the bar with a header from the subsequent corner.

Just before the hour Gus made his first change, bringing on Anton Brady for the tireless Conor McVey. Ref Roncone was then kept busy as McGowan and Robertson went into the book for fouls on Brady and Burns.

Minutes later both sides made another change. Queen’s brought on Jamie Gullan for Galt, while Stranraer replaced Dykes with Hawkshaw.

Queen’s had been as comfortable as they ever can be up to now, but with 66 minutes on the clock, it was time for a scare. Neill was given far too much space to sidefoot a cross past White, and at 2-1 it was definitely a case of game on.

While things were edgy for a few minutes, Queen’s should have put the game to bed with just over quarter of an hour to go. Keena’s flick looked to have fallen kindly for Hammill, but Burns nipped in to mug the defender; gallop towards goal – and unleash an unstoppable shot beyond Currie to put us 3-1 ahead. Game over? Don’t you believe it!

Robbie Leitch came on for Docherty a couple of minutes later, and we immediately had another scare as Ross Millen went down injured. Thankfully, it looked worse than it turned out and Ross was able to return (even if he was walking a bit gingerly).

Both sides had half chances which they failed to take and the game looked like ending 3-1 for the Spiders. But with two minutes remaining, Keena earned the chance for his hat-trick as he won a penalty after beating Currie to a through ball and then being fouled.

He struck the spot kick well enough, but Currie dived quickly to his right to keep the effort out. Needless to say, having spurned the chance to make it 4-1, Queen’s conceded a penalty in injury time and Agnew just beat White’s dive with his effort to reduce the deficit to 3-2.

Unlike Tuesday night, where the whistle went early, Roncone decided to prolong our agony for an additional five minutes, which was more than enough to shred nerves in the visiting camp.

Thankfully, there were no further scares during that period and Queen’s held on for a well-deserved three points. Forfar and Albion Rovers were both defeated to make it a good day all round for the Spiders.

There aren’t too many afternoons when Scotland come back for a victory in the game played with funny shaped balls, AND England lose on their own patch to Ireland, AND Queen’s win on the road, AND results elsewhere go our way. We’re still in more than a spot of bother, but at least today’s victory gives us a fighting chance.

We’re back down the A77 next week to face league leaders Ayr. What wouldn’t we give for another outcome like today’s?

Keep the Faith.

Queen’s Park: Michael White, Ross Millen, Scott Gibson, Lewis Magee, Adam Cummins, Gregor Fotheringham, Conor McVey, Aidan Keena, Dominic Docherty, David Galt and Sean Burns. Subs: Robbie Leitch, Thomas Orr, Ciaran Summers, Billy Mortimer, Anton Brady, Jamie Gullan, Cammy Foy.